Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby and General Glen D. VanHerck Hold a Press Briefing

Sept. 3, 2021
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby; General Glen D. VanHerck, Commander, United States Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY:  Good morning, everybody.  General VanHerck, can you -- can you hear me okay?

GENERAL GLEN D. VANHERCK:  I have you loud and clear, John.  How me?

MR. KIRBY:  Terrific, sir.

Okay, this morning, General VanHerck is joining us again to talk about NORTHCOM's contributions to Operation Allies Welcome, and I think he also has some other updates to provide on things that NORTHCOM are doing around the country -- excuse me.

So without any more delay, I'm going to turn it over to the General.  He'll have some opening comments for you, then we'll get to questions.  Just like before, I will moderate the Q&A.  I'd ask you to please identify yourself and who you're with before you ask your question and keep the follow ups to a minimum so we can get around -- as -- to as many people as we can over the course of 30 minutes, and then we'll toss it back to the General for any closing comments.

So with that, General VanHerck, the floor is yours, sir.

GEN. VANHERCK:  Thank you, John, and good morning.  It's great to be with you again today.  I'm here to update you on USNORTHCOM's support to Operation Allies Welcome and I'm also going to provide you with an update on our other ongoing efforts, as John mentioned.

In addition to our mission of defending the homeland, USNORTHCOM continues to provide COVID medical assistance in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and now, beginning today, in Idaho, while supporting wildland firefighting in the western United States.

Currently, there are approximately 200 soldiers deployed to fight the fire -- the Dixie Fire in northern California and our MASS-equipped C-130s have dropped more than 2.2 million gallons of fire retardant.  We're also conducting Hurricane Ida relief efforts, assisting FEMA, the lead federal agency, by providing high water vehicles and road-clearing capabilities.

USNORTHCOM continues its support -- Department of Defense's -- as the lead combatant command for Operation Allies Welcome in the continental United States.  USNORTHCOM is providing oversight and support of the lead federal agency, the Department of Homeland Security.

NORTHCOM's working around the clock, building capacity to support Afghan personnel.  Today, our total capacity at eight different installations is approximately 36,000 and our Afghan evacuee population is approximately 25,600.

We're working to increase capacity to at least 50,000 and we continue to provide culturally appropriate food, water, bedding, religious services, recreational activities and other services, such as transportation from the port of entry to the location of accommodations, and some medical services.

My team of military, civilian and contract personnel continue working closely with numerous agencies, both government and non-government, to ensure further requirements and additional capabilities are available for these Afghan personnel.

I visited four of the eight task forces operating at DOD locations across the U.S.  Yesterday, I visited Task Force Liberty at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.  I saw the amazing commitment and pride from our service members and interagency partners, working together to support our Afghan guests.

Our nation's dedicated and talented soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Guardians and Coast Guardsmen continue to provide Afghan personnel a safe harbor so that the Department of Homeland Security continue their immigration processing.

Since the beginning of this mission, our most pressing priority was to quickly construct safe accommodations, arrange transportation and provide meals for our Afghan guests.  That capacity building effort continues.  Our team of interagency partners, contractors and the DOD has not wavered in its commitment to temporarily house our guests in the safest conditions.

This is an unprecedented effort.  Along with many partners, we are identifying challenges, resolving issues and implementing change where needed.  I'm grateful for the support of the states and the local communities surrounding our installations and for the volunteers and others who are aiding our efforts.

Our top priority remains providing a safe and secure environment for our guests to continue their immigration process in order to transition into their new lives in the United States.  This has been a massive military, diplomatic and humanitarian undertaking, one of the most difficult in our nation's history, and an extraordinary feat of logistics and global coordination under some of the most challenging circumstances imaginable.  We're honored and proud to assist these Afghan personnel.

I'm now ready to take any questions, John.

MR. KIRBY:  Thank you, General.  We'll start with Lita.  She's on the phone.

Q:  General, thanks a lot for -- for doing this.  I -- just a couple things.  You're talking about a capacity of 50,000.  Can you say -- do you expect how many more bases you will need to have in order to meet that expectation?

And secondly, can you just give us your thoughts and what you've seen on security challenges, any violence, any security vetting issues that you've seen on -- or heard about at any of the camps?  Have there been any -- any problems of that regard?

Thank you.

GEN. VANHERCK:  Thanks, Lita.

As far as bases, we -- we currently have eight task forces at eight different locations ready to expand, if needed.  At this time, I do not anticipate needing any additional bases to reach the capacity we need of at least 50,000.

As far as security, I'm not aware of any incidents that have made it to my level on the task forces.  I believe that's the question that you're asking.  I -- I would tell you that we're partnering with not only our -- our military folks but our federal law enforcement and other agencies to ensure a safe and secure environment for the Afghans.

We're also working closely with Afghans to put a -- a command and control construct in place.  Yesterday, at Fort Dix, at the McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, Task Force Liberty, I was very impressed to see that we've put a mayor's cell in place, where we have military officers and Afghan counterparts in the village, if you will, working together to solve the issues that you're talking about.

But no security issues have risen to my level.

MR. KIRBY:  Did you have a question?

Q:  Yes.  Hi, General VanHerck.  It's Meghann Myers from Military Times.

I wanted to ask how many Afghans NORTHCOM has received, how many have been resettled and moved off of installations, and about how long that process is taking and which final processes are taking place on bases here.

GEN. VANHERCK:  Okay, Meghann.

So, more than 25,600 are currently with United States NORTHCOM task forces.

As far as how long and how many have processed through, it's more than 800 at Task Force Eagle at Fort Lee, and then at the other locations we're beginning to ramp up.  So I would say approximately a thousand, but I don't have a specific number to give you.  That would be best handled by DHS and the Department of State, who are responsible for that.

As far as the duration, again, that's really DHS and Department of State.

I will tell you that right now they're in the policy and planning mode for exactly the procedure for -- that will be utilized for either asylum processing or special immigrant visa processing.  We look forward to finalizing that.

I talked with Mr. Bob Fenton yesterday while at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.  Bob Fenton is the DHS lead for Operation Allies Welcome, and he's working closely with our team so that we can become as efficient and effective as possible in the outflow process.

Q:  Hi.  Thanks for taking this question.  Travis Tritten with Military.com.

Could you describe your role in COVID testing and tell us what positivity rate you're seeing among the Afghan evacuees?

Thank you.

GEN. VANHERCK:  Yes.  Thank you, Travis.

Our -- our role at the task forces is to test every single Afghan personnel that comes in.  They're also tested at Dulles as well, but that is not done under United States Northern Command.  So we're testing all of them.

Last week during my trip, we visited Bliss and McCoy, and we saw at one location three positive COVID tests out of more than 1,300; one at another location out of 1,200.  And yesterday during my visit to Task Force Liberty there was no concern expressed by the commanders or any of the medical professionals about COVID positivity rates or testing.

MR. KIRBY:  Okay.  We'll go back to the phones.  Dan Lamothe?

Q:  Hey.  Good morning.  Thanks for your time today.

Wanted to ask, seeing a couple advertisements asking internally for AFPAK Hands types, military personnel, assumably, that have some familiarity with Dari, Pashto, that kind of thing.  Can you speak at all to what you need in terms of U.S. military personnel that can speak to Afghans who don't speak English and where you are right now handling that?

Thanks.

GEN. VANHERCK:  Hey, Dan.  That's a great question.

So, during my visit yesterday two outstanding officers, who were AFPAK Hands, one of them was a Space Force officer who recently transitioned to the Space Force from the Air Force, and the other one was an Air Force officer, who both volunteered to do this mission once they saw the importance of it.  Both of them are fluent in the languages and very helpful.

In addition to that, the -- Headquarters Air Force has provided a cultural advisor, again fluent in the languages, to help with the cultural challenges that everybody needs to understand.

With regards to interpreters, linguists, those kinds of things to support, those are challenges.  We're -- we're seeking as many as we can through the interagency process.  We've also had a, you know, request for forces out to DOD for additional support.  I'm confident that we're going to get that support as we go forward.  Great people volunteering to help us out.

MR. KIRBY:  Okay, Janne.

Q:  I'm Janne Pak with the USA Journal Korea.  I just want to ask you, but not really dealing with Afghanistan, different issues.  General, as you know, there's a -- IAEA has released a report on the restart of North Korea's nuclear reactors.  IAEA says it's a matter of serious concern.  The -- what are your concerns and countermeasures against the North Korea's nuclear and missile tests?

Thank you.

GEN. VANHERCK:  Hey, thanks for your question.

The United States Northern Command and NORAD stand ready to provide our mission capabilities.  For NORAD, that's threat warning and attack assessment.  For NORTHCOM, ballistic missile defense capability.

I'm ready 24/7, 365, if the -- North Korea decides to launch a ballistic missile.  I'm confident in our capabilities.  I'm aware of the report that you're talking about.  That does not change my posture.  We continue to be ready to respond, should North Korea elect to launch a missile.

Q:  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Barb?

Q:  General VanHerck, a couple of follow-ups.

You -- you talk about this mayor's cell.  Can you tell us a little bit more?  Is this something that's going to happen at all the other sites?  How are you trying to give Afghans more of a voice in their conditions right now?

My second follow up to that is you -- you mentioned a couple of times things not coming to your level of attention.  I'm wondering how you're ensuring that any problems regarding food, sanitation, care, standardizing care, how these do come to your attention so you can -- you know, so you make sure people tell you when there are problems?  What's -- what's that level you've set when you want something brought to your attention?

GEN. VANHERCK:  Hey, thanks, Barb.

Yeah, I -- I -- great opportunity to talk about the mayor's cell -- and it has been perpetuated across all of the task forces.  I'm really encouraged with what I see at the task forces, with sharing lessons and continuous improvement processes.

The mayor's cell is a -- is a great idea.  We take our military leaders, we put them into the mayor's cell, they're responsible for a specific location -- may -- maybe a few dorms, a -- a dorm or two -- and they have a counterpart on the Afghan side that would essentially be their equal, if you will, in rank.  This is great because not only does it allow the Afghans to express their concerns or challenges or where they need resources or help, it allows us to also communicate with them through the same process and they can perpetuate that information across the entire task force and across the -- all of the Afghan population.

So -- so, for example, the second part of your question, where you may have concerns such as sanitization or something like that, this is a great venue and a method to be able to express that.  We have cultural differences, and -- and those are things that we're working on educating both the Afghans and our people on the challenges that we face from a cultural perspective and understanding that we each -- understand each -- each person's perspective.  And so this -- this process of -- of the mayor's cell has been very, very influential in helping us get after that.

With regards to information that flows to my level, Barb, there are things called commanders' critical information requirements, and I lay those out specifically on things that I want to be notified about and then I empower the commanders that work for me from multiple levels, all the way down to the lowest level, to, when they deem necessary that something's going to get attention, that they are going to contact me.

I'm very confident that if there was an incident of serious nature that I would be in the loop at this point.  And so when I say I haven't been made aware of any, I'm confident that we're in a good position there.  I can't tell you there hasn't been any incidents at all but they haven't been serious enough to be addressed at my level.

Q:  Can I just follow up?

So just to make sure I understand, nothing has been reported to you -- correct me if I'm wrong -- and I am still wondering -- there have been sporadic reports -- I -- I grant absolutely sporadic -- of problems of sanitation and food and that sort of thing.  Is there anything that you may be just hearing about in your travels around that they're doing to ensure there's a standardized process, so at all of these bases, where so many people are located, the local commanders have some standardization and -- and know what they need to look for?

But nothing is -- I -- I just want to make sure nothing has come to your level?

GEN. VANHERCK:  Barb, nothing has come to my level to address.  I am aware of the sanitization issues you talk about.  A text that was posted on social media on August 29th -- I believe that text was referring to some conditions at Dona Ana, at Fort Bliss, Task Force Bliss.  The -- the reason I became aware was through that text process that -- that allowed me to become aware.

The mayor's cell process that we were just talking about has been influential in helping educate and understand the expectations for our visitors, helping understand for our contractors who provide a lot of the sanitization support as well.  And so we continue to improve.

Now, Barb, I would tell you I -- I'm building eight small cities, okay?  We're going to have challenges, just like you do across the nation in various locations.  And so I -- I'm comfortable and confident that we have processes in place to continue to address any of these challenges moving forward.

And so I look forward to showing you at some point in the future, when we can -- I think you'll be incredibly impressed with what we're doing.

MR. KIRBY:  Sylvie?

Q:  Hello, General.  Sylvie Lanteaume from AFP.

We have reports about children separated from their families during the evacuation.  Do you have any case of children traveling alone?  And what -- how do you deal with them?

GEN. VANHERCK:  I thank you.  Great question.

So we've had a couple of unaccompanied children arrive at our task forces.  They're immediately identified.  And Health and Human Services is the lead agency to take responsibility for any unaccompanied children.

In each case, they have quickly adapted to take responsibility for those children.  Each of their personnel are certified, trained, very experienced to handle these cases.  We do not retain responsibility for those but we do identify them and pass them on to Health and Human Services.

Q:  Where do they go?

GEN. VANHERCK:  I would defer to Health and Human Services for that.  Health and Human Services, I believe, has facilities in Washington, D.C., near Dulles, where they're currently housing any unaccompanied children.

What -- what I've seen is they're incredibly fast in trying to work to identify where the families are and get them reunited with their families.

Q:  Do -- do you have a number?

GEN. VANHERCK:  I do not.  Health and Human Services is the POC and I'd refer you to them.

MR. KIRBY:  Let me get back to the phones.  Jack Detsch, Foreign Policy?

Q:  Hey, thanks for doing this, General.

I'm curious if you have a -- an outlay or a ballpark figure of how much it's going to cost to house Afghan refugees at U.S. bases?

Thanks.

GEN. VANHERCK:  I -- I don't have that figure.  I -- I would refer you to the -- for DOD purposes, to OSD and the comptroller, but more broadly, probably, to the lead federal agency.  Apologize -- I don't have that data.

Q:  Okay, no problem.

John, if you could take that, that'd be great.

MR. KIRBY:  Jack, I will take it.  I suspect that we don't have a firm estimate right now, as we are really just in the middle of this operation.  But Jack, that's a fair question, and we'll see what kind of context in terms of cost we can get to you.

Q:  Okay, thanks.

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, ma'am?

Q:  General, I'm wondering if -- Kristina Anderson, AWPS News.

I'm wondering if you have, at this early stage, demographics among the task force groups, these tiny cities, and in particular, about children when school's starting here in the U.S., what kinds of organizational things are happening to try to make sure that children continue their education, and anyone who is ready for university is able to kind of plug into that.

Thank you.

GEN. VANHERCK:  Thanks, Kristina.

First, I'll have to defer you to the -- the lead for that, as far as demographics.  I think I talked a little bit about that last time.  You know, we're seeing close to 50/50, male/female, with a large percentage of children, but I don't have the specifics.

As far as education, again, DOD is not the lead there.  I would defer you to the State Department, Health and Human Services and the lead federal agency for that information.  What I will tell you -- it was incredibly heartwarming yesterday during my visit to Task Force Liberty.  We were walking through the village.  There's hundreds of kids out.  They have coloring books.  They have toys.  They're -- they're -- they're with their families.  They're with their friends.  They're playing, hundreds of them playing soccer, and I even got to watch a congressman play hopscotch with a young female Afghan person that was there, and her heart was warmed, and she smiled continuously.  So it's -- it's -- it's not like they're not doing anything.  They're staying incredibly busy.

Q:  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Luis?

Q:  So, General, it's Luis Martinez of ABC News.

It seems like the population has quadrupled since you were with us last week in terms of people that you had at these facilities.  And I know that at Fort Lee, it was initially for people who were in the SIV pipeline, so they were going through rather quickly.  Are the majority now of these individuals who are in your camps, are they SIVs?  And if they're not, how much time do you anticipate that they'll spend there, if there's a certain process that's involved in terms of not being days, but maybe weeks or months?

GEN. VANHERCK:  Okay, thanks, Luis.

You -- you're right.  Lee was primarily an SIV event, and today, the vast majority of the Afghan population at Lee are in the SIV process.

As far as the total number, I don't have a specific.  I'd have to do defer you to DHS and State Department of exactly the breakout between SIV and other asylum-seekers.  But I -- I would venture -- I'm speculating a little bit -- that the vast majority are not SIVs at this time; they're asylum-seekers that will be determined how we're going to work them through the process by DHS as the lead federal agency.

Q:  And if I could follow up, sir, does that mean that they will remain at those facilities until they get asylum?  Or like the other individuals in the SIV pipeline, do they get transferred out to NGOs that then find housing for them?

GEN. VANHERCK:  Luis, what -- what I expect, in talking with Mr. Bob Fenton yesterday -- and they're currently working through the process for how we're going to onward-move them is that each of them will, at a minimum, go through the medical screening, a COVID vaccination -- that's a -- a requirement now for a parole, "parole" being a term that the state uses when you release them into the -- the United States as part of the either Special Immigrant process or DHS as part of an asylum process.  For the duration, that really depends on the capacity we're going to have at each location and the policy decision that is currently being made right now on what the -- the processing's going to look like.

That does not mean they'll be on DOD installations until they complete that process.  Once they go through their screening, once the policy's decided, then they may be released likely into our country and go through the asylum process as guests of our country until they get their either U.S. citizenship, green card, et cetera.

Q:  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Okay, we've got time for just one more, and then I'm going to let the -- the general close things out.

Sam LaGrone, did you have a question?

Q:  Yeah, hi.  General, thanks for being here.

Can we get an update on the relief operations in Haiti, and how those are going, and what the U.S. participation is at the moment?

GEN. VANHERCK:  Hey, Sam, I'll have to defer to Admiral Faller at SOUTHCOM.  That's in his AOR.  Maybe John Kirby has more, but that's not something I'm responsible for.

MR. KIRBY:  Sam, we'll get you something.  I don't have an update ready for today on that, but we'll -- we'll get you something.

One -- one last one.  Go ahead, Barb.

Q:  General, can I have quick follow-up to Luis?  So what is your -- what have you been told?  What's your planning factor, if you will, on how long you have to have these military bases prepared and ready, capable to house Afghans?  Because given what you're doing, you would have -- somebody would have given you, you know, some kind of planning scenario -- be ready for as long as --

And when you talked about these locations as villages, are families given separate housing?  Are they together (inaudible) as a family, or are families in larger dormitories?  How's the housing working?  Also, for single females and single males?

GEN. VANHERCK:  Yeah, thanks, Barb.  Great question.  Let me answer that last portion first.

So single males will have single-male housing and living facilities.  They will not be intermixed with children and the families.  Families do you have separated areas where we try to put the families together.  So some of these areas that are -- that are open, what we do is we put temporary walls up to give privacy in accordance with their culture for -- for the families.  And single females, as well, will be allowed the opportunity to have single-female housing for them, as well.

The first part of your question, Barb, let me make sure I understood that one.  Can you go back to that?

Q:  Just to follow up on what Luis was asking, what have you -- somebody would have said to you or the military, as you construct these -- these base locations, to be prepared to conduct this mission for as long as -- and what would that have been?  What planning guidance have you been give, even if it does -- if it's more or less?  What's the guidance you have on how long to be prepared to conduct this mission?

GEN. VANHERCK:  Barb, we're prepared to conduct the mission until completion, which will be determined by DHS as far as the processing.  I would defer to John Kirby, if he has additional information that maybe OMB or another agency is planning for, but for me, I'm prepared to execute until told otherwise, or mission complete.

Q:  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Okay, with that, General, sir, I appreciate your time today on a Friday.  I'd like to turn it back over to you for any closing thoughts you might have, sir.

GEN. VANHERCK:  Hey, thanks, John.

And thanks to the press corps there.  It's a great opportunity to share this story.  I think there's some incredibly positive stories that can come out of the ongoing mission of Operation Allies Welcome.  And I've been able to see those.  It's a Herculean effort that started all the way in Afghanistan and is working its way all the way here to the United States of America.

I can't tell you how impressed I really am with our joint force, our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Guardians, Coast Guardsmen, partnered with the interagency and volunteers that are making this mission happen.  The pride is simply amazing that I see when I go out and do this, and the smiles and the gratitude and the graciousness of our guests.  You cannot overstate how much they appreciate what our teams are doing.  The states, the local communities, the volunteers that are coming out, it's just amazing.  And that's a story that we have to continue to tell.

I will tell you, the mission is not over.  And for us, it's actually just beginning.  Much to accomplish in the coming days and weeks, and we look forward to continuing to work with the Department of Homeland Security and the rest of the interagency to accomplish this mission.

You know, I know that DOD and our interagency partners are up to this task.  That's what we do at the department; that's what we do as Americans.  And it's great to be part of this mission.

Thank you very much.

MR. KIRBY:  Thank you, General.  Appreciate your time today.

Okay, I do have a couple of things at the top here.  And then I can stick around and take some questions if you have them.

To piggyback on to the general's comments about wildfire support, with the continuing significant fire -- fires in the western United States, the Department of Defense is delivering requested personnel, equipment and facilities to assist federal, state and local partners as they fight these wildfires.

One of the tools provided by the department is the Firefly system pilot program.  It's a capability from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, NGA.  Firefly provides imagery information from satellites, drones, ground sensors and cameras, giving wildfire agencies the location and shape of probable fires.  It assists with fire mapping and tactical decision support.  Firefly offers regular updates, up to 15-minute intervals, on areas of fire growth and activity without cost or exposure of aircraft.

Recognizing the continuing value of this pilot program, the department recently approved an extension of Firefly support through September of 2022.  This extension will provide time for the National Interagency Fire Center, in consultation with the Department of Defense, to develop a viable long-term solution for future funding and operation of Firefly.

Finally, I think you heard the secretary mentioned the other day that he'd be going to the Gulf region here next week.  We -- we -- we depart on Sunday, September 5, to visit Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Throughout this trip, the secretary will be meeting with regional partners and military leaders as well -- U.S. military leaders as well, to thank them for their cooperation for the United States, as we evacuated Americans, Afghans and citizens from other nations from Afghanistan.  He will, of course, reaffirm our strong defense relationships in the region and, again, thank them for their superb support.  They'll have a chance to talk to U.S. service members and other government personnel to including -- including our -- our diplomat colleagues, to thank them for, again, the skill and professionalism with which they have conducted and continue to conduct this -- this onward movement of people.

So with that, I can take some questions.  Travis?

Q:  John, I wanted to piggyback on previous questions on what the general said about the length of time that they might be housing the Afghans.  And it sounds like from what he said, it's -- it could be indefinitely.  And I'm just wondering if you could give us some more clarity on that.  I mean, is it the plan to do this through October with the possibility of an extension?  Or can you give us some more clarity so this doesn't sound like this is indefinite?

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, I wouldn't want to get confused.

I don't think the general meant to indicate that the -- that the stay at a base is going to be indefinite.  That is not the plan.  These are temporary housing locations to help these individuals as they complete their process.

And many of them -- to Luis' question -- are on different process timelines.  If you're an SIV and you're farther in the process, then obviously, it won't be as long as somebody who's not in that -- in that program.  So it's going to vary case by case.

What he was talking about was the mission itself.  The general support by DOD to our interagency partners, there's not a -- a deadline on that.  We're -- as he said, we're just at the beginning of this.  And so, we'll -- we'll support our interagency partners with the housing function we're providing for as long as they need it.

That's different than saying an individual family or individual Afghan is going to be on a base for an indefinite period of time.  There's a -- there's a process, but each one will be different based on the -- the individual case.

Did that answer your question?

Q:  I think so.  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Okay.  Yeah.  The back there?

Q:  Thanks.  Mike Brest with the Washington Examiner.

DOD still hasn't said who the targets of the airstrikes were.  Can you tell us who the targets were?  And if not, why not?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't believe we've refused to say who they are.  We haven't given you any names.

But we -- we absolutely had solid intelligence that this was -- that this was ISIS individuals, who were in the -- in the act of imminently carrying out a direct threat to the airport and to our people, and potentially to innocent lives outside the airport.  The intelligence was very good.  And we -- we took the strike in as timely a fashion as we could to prevent this imminent threat.  There's -- there's no question, from the department's mind, that it was a valid threat, valid target, and it related to ISIS-K.

Okay.  Luis?

Q:  Yesterday, General Wolters spoke about a 10-day limit for individuals in -- in EUCOM.

MR. KIRBY:  Right.

Q:  What exactly is that?  And is there a limit for the individuals in the CENTCOM countries?

MR. KIRBY:  Let me get back to you on the CENTCOM.  I don't know.  I'd have to get that from Central Command, Luis.

What the general was talking about in Europe, these countries have asked that we keep people no longer than 10 days at these -- at these facilities.  And I think he talked about how we're -- we're working with the -- the countries -- we're grateful for their generosity, and we're working very hard to meet those -- those guidelines as best we can.

I'll have to take the question on CENTCOM.  I don't know if there are similar limits on timeframe.  Obviously, there are different capacity capabilities at each of the countries in the region and Central Command that -- that are helping us host some of these individuals, but I'm not sure that there's a time limit thing on it.

Q:  To those -- I think the number he said yesterday was like 20,000 people, 23,000 people are still in EUCOM are going to the United States, or they're going to be housed in other countries.

MR. KIRBY:  That -- that -- most of -- we anticipate most will be coming to the United States, but not all.  And that's a -- again, to some degree that'll -- that'll be determined by the individual family members.  And -- and, you know, people that left Afghanistan, we can't assume that each and every single one of them wants the United States to be their final destination.

Q:  So if that clock holds, I mean, I think it's by next Wednesday when we have to have all of those individuals back in the United States.

MR. KIRBY:  Well, or -- or -- or not at the -- not at -- at -- at the bases where they're at right now; not necessarily all back to the United States.

And again, the general's better to talk to.  I think he mentioned -- he talked about that yesterday.

Yeah?

Q:  Thank you.

The secretary said in the past that Indo-Pacific is a priority theater in the face of the pacing threat of China.  Does he still stand by his earlier statements now that the Taliban took over Afghanistan and the threat of terrorism could increase in the near future?

MR. KIRBY:  The secretary still intends to prioritize the Indo-Pacific region, absolutely.  Nothing's changed about that.  And you've heard us talk before, that in -- in -- in many ways, the -- the terrorist threat, certainly to our interests and the interests of our allies and partners, has metastasized outside Afghanistan and we're not going to lose focus on that.  You heard him say that just the other day -- we're going to stay laser-focused on making sure we have the capabilities we need to -- to conduct over-the-horizon counter-terrorism capabilities, not just in Afghanistan but -- but -- but elsewhere around the world.

Nothing's changed about our -- our focus on the Indo-Pacific region.  It's no accident that, you know, his first trip was to that -- to that part of the world.  And in fact, he -- he went just recently again to -- to Southeast Asia.

This trip next week will be his first trip to the Middle East since becoming secretary of defense, and obviously a very opportune moment for him to be able to thank these countries for their support.

Q:  Okay.  Separate question -- the DOD was supposed to complete the Global Post -- Posture Review by as early as late summer.  Are you still on track to lead to that timeline, even after the recent events in Afghanistan?

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, the team is still working on this and I think we're still basically where we need to be in terms of the timeline.

Yeah?

Q:  John, on the evacuees, can you tell us if -- are there -- if there are any military -- Afghan military members, service members among the evacuated -- evacuees?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, there are some.

Q:  And also, on -- on the strike in Nangahar, you -- can you -- if you -- why don't you name those high level, high profile ISIS officials yet?  You don't have the names?  You don't --

MR. KIRBY:  We know who they are.  I think at -- at the time, we didn't release the names because we were being -- we were in the middle of a very fluid threat environment.  Let me see if -- you know, if that's information that can be provided now.  I don't know.  I mean, I -- we know who they are.  I don't know if it's information that -- that we're going to be able to provide right now.

Yeah, Christine?

Q:  So back to these -- these task force bases here in the U.S. -- on the longer term stays, will there be plans to include, among the activities for the children, educational types of activities -- you know, getting English, some of those kinds of things perhaps?  I don't know how long the stay would be but it seems to me that, you know, just having them play day by day is a good thing but, you know, some educational activity wouldn't --

MR. KIRBY:  I would refer you to HHS.  That's really their role.  I -- again, I think it's -- to -- to remind, our -- our job is to provide temporary housing space, food, water, sustenance, shelter, religious accommodations obviously to make these individuals as comfortable as possible while they go through this process, but -- but you're asking -- you know, the -- those kinds of questions are -- are -- are better put to -- to HHS and not the Department of Defense.

Courtney?

Q:  Yeah, I just wonder -- now that there's a little bit of time that the U.S. has been out, is there a -- a -- more clarity on what the CT strikes -- like, who could be targeted under the CT strikes?  Obviously, ISIS-K, we've heard about that, I'm assuming Al Qaida.  What about Haqqani?  Are they a legitimate -- a target that the U.S. will be -- could potentially be targeting with counter-terror strikes in Afghanistan going forward?

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, I -- I don't want to hypothesize about potential future operations, Courtney.  What I will tell you is that we maintain the capability and the responsibility to conduct counter-terrorism strikes that we believe are in the best interests of the United States of America and the American people that we defend, and I think I'd just leave it at that.

Q:  So -- because there is at least one Haqqani leader, Siraj Haqqani, who -- there's a -- a -- a $5 million -- what's the term -- against him by the FBI -- but -- from the FBI about -- for $5 million for information about him.

So theoretically, he's wanted in the United States.  Would he be a legitimate counter-terror target for U.S. military operations -- for U.S. military?

MR. KIRBY:  We will conduct counter-terrorism operations that we believe are -- are in the interest of protecting our interests and -- and the American people and when there is, you know, the -- the credible threat that needs to be dealt with.

And I don't want to speculate about each and every possible circumstance or each and every possible target.  I think you can understand why we wouldn't want to do that right now.

Q:  And then one more on that -- who -- how -- now that there's no U.S. military presence there, who has the authority?  So does that have to -- every single time that -- that -- now General McKenzie has a potential target, does he have to get permission from the White House or from secretary of defense to -- to conduct strikes in Afghanistan going forward?

And I know I've asked this before but I'll ask it again, just to see if there's more clarity -- now that the Taliban are -- are the -- running the government in Afghanistan, will -- will the U.S. go to them in advance of strikes, not necessarily for approval but as coordination or --

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, I -- I think both the secretary and the chairman talked about this just the other day.  They didn't -- you -- you know, they didn't want to leave anybody with the notion that we were somehow going to be in some long term, enduring, manufactured cooperation agreement with the Taliban.

But to your last question, I mean, each -- each case is going to be dealt with specifically to that case, and that in -- that includes, you know, issues of -- of -- of authorities.  Obviously General McKenzie has authorities to conduct counter-terrorism operations inside his area of responsibility and we leave it to him and his good judgment to determine how much, beyond his own authorities, does he want -- does he need to -- does he want to act or -- or consult, but every case is going to be dealt with differently.

So I -- I -- again, I think the secretary and the chairman laid it out pretty clear -- we're not -- you know, no -- nobody's trying to ink some sort of military cooperation agreement with the -- with the Taliban but the -- they wouldn't rule out that there might be occasions when there might need to be some informational component there with -- with the Taliban going forward.

I -- I -- I don't -- we shouldn't get lost -- nothing should be lost about the -- the fact that we're going -- we have a robust over-the-horizon counter-terrorism capability, we're going to try to make it more robust, we're still in discussions with partner nations about being able to make it more robust, and -- and we're going to continue to explore options.

Again, it's about defending our interests and our people and -- and -- and the American homeland and making sure that places like Afghanistan can't become a -- a place where that kind of a threat, like what happened on 9/11, can happen again.

Barbara?

Q:  I want to clarify something you just said to Courtney, please.  I think I heard you correctly -- you said you leave it to General McKenzie to decide when he needs to consult.

MR. KIRBY:  Right.  I know there is a fascination here about -- now, Barb, wait, hang on just a second -- there's a fascination here over authorities and -- and the cases when a commander can do something on his or her own or they have to float it up the chain of command.

I am not going to get into a detailed discussion today about authorities for strikes that haven't happened yet and for operations that aren't planned and aren't -- and aren't on the calendar yet.  We -- we -- the whole -- hang on, please -- the whole national security team is involved in monitoring the threat streams and -- and the intelligence, and there is, in -- in many cases, frequent dialogue across the chain of command about taking the appropriate action.  And -- and the interest in authorities is interesting.  It's not necessarily relevant to the overall mission, which is to prevent our nation from being attacked again.

Q:  So my question, actually, is, while that's a very good explanation, my question is you said -- if I am repeating this accurately -- it is up to General McKenzie to decide when he needs to consult.  I'm wondering, given every -- maybe I just misunderstood you.  There are processes and procedures.  A four-star, when in charge of a -- operations in a particular part of the world, it wouldn't just be left up to him to decide whether he thinks he needs to tell the president or the White House or the secretary or the chairman.  I'm not trying to ask about hypotheticals; I'm just trying to ask, is that really the case, that General McKenzie gets to decide?  Or did I misunderstand you?

MR. KIRBY:  There will be -- he has authorities, Barb, and there will be times when he'll be able to act on those authorities.  There will be other occasions, potentially, where there'll need to be a broader discussion about the intelligence we're seeing and about the -- about the capabilities we can bring to bear to deal with that particular threat.

Q:  But you don't think --

MR. KIRBY:  And General McKenzie -- what I -- if -- if I -- I'll have to go back and look at exactly what I said, but General McKenzie understands how to do this and -- as do all the other combatant commanders, quite frankly.  It's not just at Central Command.  Other geographic combatant commands are dealing with terrorist threats, Africa, and even in the Indo-Pacific.  They -- they understand the authorities that they have, and they also understand that even within those authorities, there might be times when a broader discussion is -- is -- is warranted.  And I think, again, it -- it's not a useful exercise to go through the authorities on each and every possible strike.  What matters is that the American people know, A, we have the capability, and we're going to keep the capability, and we're going to try to make it more robust; and B, we're not going to lose sight on the threat going forward.  And it's difficult for me, on the third of September, to tell you exactly what that threat's going to look like in any part of the world on any particular day, except to say that our combatant commanders know the authorities they have.  They know the responsibilities they have, and they will -- and they will act accordingly.

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  I think the reason that the -- like, I'm glad that the combatant commanders have -- know their authorities.  I would be troubled if they didn't.  But I think the reason that we're asking here is because now, the situation has changed.  There's been 20 years that we've been covering this war, and now the situation on the ground has changed.  There's no military there, and it's not -- and -- and we're trying to understand to inform our own reporting how things go, going forward.  I'm -- I don't think we're asking if you specifically can give us a date and time of each strike and who it's going to be targeting, and where, but what -- just more broadly, how this process is going to work, going forward.  And I think that -- the -- that kind of process stuff, you know -- call us wonky.  It wouldn't be the worst thing this press corps's been called before.  But -- but I think that only informs our own reporting, to understand how -- how it's going to work.  So if it's possible to -- that anyone can explain this -- that going forward, even in a broad sense --

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, and Courtney, again, I think -- maybe I failed.  Perhaps I utterly failed here to try to explain it going forward.  But --

Q:  Not to your face.

MR. KIRBY:  But -- but --

(Laughter.)

But I -- I just don't think it's a useful exercise to talk about every authority process for every potential strike we're going to take.  Just rest assured that -- that our combatant commanders have the authorities they need, and if there's a need to have a broader discussion inside the -- inside the national security team about a potential target, we'll -- we'll do that.  It is not uncommon that -- that hasn't happened in the past, and I suspect that that'll happen in the future.

But you're right, the situation is different, and that's exactly the point I guess I'm trying to make, is that because the situation is different, you know, these are -- these -- these will be taken almost on an individual basis.

Q:  Could I have a follow-up?

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, sure.

Q:  Could you talk a little bit about the urgency and the opportunity in a strike?  Because -- does that -- is that a factor in this, too, sometimes?

MR. KIRBY:  Time and urgency is always a factor when you're getting ready to -- to take a -- a -- a strike, particularly against a -- a legitimate terrorist threat.

Okay, I've got to go.

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, go ahead.

Q:  So what is the U.S. destination of the military mission against the terrorists?  U.S. will be fighting forever to Taliban, ISIS-K, or another terrorist?  What's -- do you have any destination for the final destination?

MR. KIRBY:  A destination?

Q:  Yes, a final destination of the U.S.

MR. KIRBY:  A final destination of the U.S. when it comes to terrorist threats?

I mean, I -- I think it's been pretty clear.  We want to make sure that we can avoid, prevent, stop a -- a terrorist threat from -- from endangering the lives of -- of the American people, like -- like what happened nearly 20 years ago, and that was why we went to Afghanistan, and it -- it was still the goal, and it is still the goal, not just in Afghanistan, but elsewhere around the world to -- to eliminate those kinds of threats to our -- to our interests and to our people, to our allies and partners from -- from legitimate terrorist activity, which again, as I said, has metastasized away from Afghanistan in -- in recent years to North Africa and to the -- and -- and into other places in the Middle East.

And -- and so we're not going to lose sight on that.  We're just not going to lose sight on that.  The -- the secretary's number-one priority, if you go back and look at his message to the force when he took over, is defend the nation.  There's a lot you wrap into defend the nation -- a lot.  Part of it is the existent terrorist threat and the future terrorist threat, and making sure that we're not losing focus on that.

Q:  All right, thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Okay?  Thank you.

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